Cheers to Shirley and Joan, and Jeers to Hawaii Governor

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

At the 2010 National NOW Conference last weekend, I had the honor of taking photos at the wedding of Shirley Herman and Joan Waitkevicz. That’s right, two longtime NOW activists got married at our conference!

Shirley and Joan live in Florida, and they were planning on coming to the conference anyway. But because the event was in Massachusetts — one of the few states where same-sex marriage is an acknowledged right — they decided to get married and share their nuptials with anyone from the conference who wanted to attend.

Joan and Shirley get married

Talk about a moving ceremony! Shirley and Joan have been together for 37 years, and it is obvious that they are very much in love. Anyone who objects to same-sex couples being allowed to marry should experience the joy of attending a wedding like this one. How anyone could tell a couple like Shirley and Joan that they can’t get married is beyond me. Especially after seeing how committed they are to each other and how happy they make each other.

While Shirley and Joan had already made their union official in various other ways — most importantly in their own hearts — this was the first time they became legally “married.” Sadly, the state where they live will not recognize this marriage and neither does the federal government. Only six states in the U.S. have full marriage equality on the books — and none of these states has the authority to afford same-sex couples the more than 1,000 federal benefits that are granted to same-sex couples.

Just yesterday, the governor of Hawaii vetoed a bill, passed by the state legislature, that would have granted all of the state’s marriage rights and benefits to same-sex couples (and opposite-sex couples as well) who enter into civil unions. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle claimed that she rejected the bill because the decision should be left up to the voters.

But NOW Executive Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer responds that this is just plain wrong. “Leaving the rights of a minority group in the hands of the majority can be unfair. The civil unions bill was passed by duly elected representatives. If there are any questions about the bill’s constitutionality, it should be left to the judicial system,” Grabenhofer explained. “That’s why we have a judicial system — to protect the rights of the oppressed.”

The veto of this bill, just like Proposition 8 in California, will be challenged in the courts, where its blatant discrimination should be reversed. With persistence and justice on our side, hopefully one day soon couples like Shirley and Joan will be able to wed in their home states and have their rights as a married couple recognized universally.

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